We do the same thing with God, imposing our standards and expectations on Him as we would anyone else. “He’s God,” we say, “so surely He will take care of us.” Translation: “Surely things will work out just fine, just the way I think they ought.” We soon confuse His ways with our ways, and then we end up disappointed again.
The last 6 or 7 months of my journey has involved a lot of pride, a lot of elevating my own ways above God’s, and, this past week, I have sat in the rubble of disappointment as those plans have fallen, and God’s way alone has been left like a brick wall in front of me, as my deep desire and expectation of returning to “my city” and “my students” in East Asia for Christmas is walled off with a resounding “No.”
To say that I haven’t been taking this very well would be a dramatic understatement. I’ve been ugly-crying at any mention of the trip, overly frustrated when I have seen others interested, and pridefully thinking, “I could lead them. I know that city. I love those kids. Take me back! Take me NOW!”
Frankly, I’ve been offended by God’s answer, by His “No”, and by the brick wall before me that definitively gives me that answer. Stiffening my neck, peering over the wall, I’ve been trying to figure out a way over its height. I’m asking “why” of God and whispering countless times, “I don’t understand….I miss it so much.” I want this. I desire to go back and once again tell the story of Christmas to those who have never heard it before. This aligns with the will of God, right?! What was such a clear and obvious expectation of mine when I returned last January faced many roadblocks of timing and money through the summer, until I woke up one day a few weeks ago, threw all the roadblocks out the window, picked up my map, and …. WALL.
And, from behind the wall, there comes a voice, echoing from within and from around me: “Blessed is he who is not offended by Me.” These are Jesus’ words to John the Baptist, His forerunning prophet who testified both to His coming and His divine nature. This promised blessing, however, is not in response to John’s works, but to his doubts.
John too had been on a journey. He had proclaimed repentance to the masses as a training ground for the coming Messiah. He had seen Jesus and received revelation that this was God’s chosen one who would take away the sins of the world. He had even baptized Him. It was a clear path.
But then, John too ran into a brick wall. Literally, one of each side of him. He was thrown in jail for his association with Jesus and His radical ideas. Yet Jesus–unlike John–wasn’t acting particularly radically. There were no massive rallies concerning His political agenda, no public, grandiose displays of power. Instead, He was quietly teaching (though they were radical words) in synagogues and on hillsides, sitting with children, and stopping for the broken and the hurting.
These were not John’s expectations concerning the coming one. All his life had been spent proclaiming this one’s coming, but disappointment in Jesus’ methods let to a question laced with doubt:
“Are you really the one we’ve been waiting for? Are you truly the promised Messiah? Or should we look for another?”
With this question, John raised another wall.
As have I. As we all have, at one time or another.
Jesus’ response to John, and to us, promises blessing for the one who does not take offense at Him or His ways. The Greek word for “offense” is literally “to be scandalized” (we get our word for scandal from this Greek verb). What do we say when we confront a scandal?
We do the same thing with God, when His ways do not rise to meet our expectations or standards. We erect another wall–against the blessing promised to us.
“Don’t go looking for another way around the walls you face. I am the way.”